The Tranquility of Creation

St. Gregory of Nyssa in his book describing the creation of humans, ON THE MAKING OF MAN, gives us a very idyllic picture of the world in the moment before humans arrived on the scene – the calm before the storm.

“Now all things already arrived at their own end: the heaven and the earth (Genesis 2:1), as Moses says, were finished, and all things that lie between them, and the particular things were adorned with their appropriate beauty;

the heaven with the rays of the stars, the sea and air with the living creatures that swim and fly, and the earth with all varieties of plants and animals, to all which, empowered by the Divine will, it gave birth together;

the earth was full, too, of her produce, bringing forth fruits at the same time with flowers; the meadows were full of all that grows therein,

and all the mountain ridges, and summits, and every hillside, and slope, and hollow, were crowned with young grass, and with the varied produce of the trees, just risen from the ground, yet shot up at once into their perfect beauty;

and all the beasts that had come into life at God’s command were rejoicing, we may suppose, and skipping about, running to and fro in the thickets in herds according to their kind, while every sheltered and shady spot was ringing with the chants of the songbirds.

And at sea, we may suppose, the sight to be seen was of the like kind, as it had just settled to quiet and calm in the gathering together of its depths, where havens and harbors spontaneously hollowed out on the coasts made the sea reconciled with the land;

and the gentle motion of the waves vied in beauty with the meadows, rippling delicately with light and harmless breezes that skimmed the surface; and all the wealth of creation by land and sea was ready, and not was there to share it.”  (pp 20-21)

St. Gregory pictures the perfect creation, tranquilly settling in from the more violent creation which brought the chaos under control, separating the waters from the land and causing the dry earth to emerge.  That tumult and turmoil lasted only a brief moment for St. Gregory – things instantly attained their finished state – trees reaching their heights instantaneously.  In his understanding, the first trees grew but not over years but immediately attaining their height.  His view is that the world we are in today emerged both spontaneously but not yet in completed form.  Things had to grow but did so instantly.  Things didn’t have to follow what we now know as the order of nature in those opening days of creation – they were exempt from the laws of nature that we know.

Humans were created last to be the crown of creation – the earth was a Paradise created by God for His human creatures.  Humans were not made to wait for the world to emerge – it was all there, perfectly, before humans were placed in it, according to St. Gregory.  Humans had nothing else to do but maintain the  pacific serenity and blessed placidness.  They, however, were about to undue all that God had planned.

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Early Autumn

You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.  (Psalms 104:19)

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The first day of fall 2017 came on September 22.   The Autumnal Equinox marks the beginning of autumn with there being approximately the same amount of daylight and nighttime darkness.  We have been in a dry spell with unseasonably warm temperatures.  So far the color change has been slow in coming.  Though I do see brown, dry leaves on the ground, the trees are still mostly green with color only slowly appearing among the leaves.

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Daniel said:
“Blessed be the name of God from age to age,
for wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons…
(Daniel 2:20-21)  

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I really do enjoy fall weather – the passing of high humidity days brings a drier warmth and pleasing breezes.  I love to see the colors of the leaves as they mark the passing of the seasons.  They are a harbinger of winter but I enjoy their current beauty, not what they are pointing to.

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For both we and our words are in his hand,
as are all understanding and skill in crafts.
For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists,
to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements;
the beginning and end and middle of times,
the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons,
the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars…  (Wisdom of Solomon 7:16)

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I walk in the woods, enjoying God’s creation and the changing nature of the world.  I have lived through more than half of century watching summer end replaced by autumn’s tones.  It is always the same and yet each season is new and wonderful.

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Psalm 95 – The World is the Lord’s

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.  

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And the heights of the mountains are His;  

For the sea is His, and He made it,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And His hands formed the dry land.  

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.   (Psalm 95:1-7)

John Donne: All Times are God’s Seasons

John Donne writing in the 17th Century offers a wonderful reflection on seasons and time as related to God’s own love for His Creation. The version below was adapted to conform to 21st Century spellings and grammar.

“God made sun and moon to distinguish seasons, and day and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons.

But God made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies.  In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is always Autumn: his mercies are ever in their maturity.

We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never says you should have come yesterday.  He never says you must [come] again tomorrow, but today if you will hear his voice, today he will hear you.

  If some king of the earth has so large an extent of dominion in north and south, as that he has winter and summer together in his dominions, so large an extent east and west as that he has day and night together in his dominions, much more has God mercy and judgment together.

He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light.   He can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring.

 Though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, you have been benighted until now, winter and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied until now,

now God comes to  you, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of spring, but as the sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons. ” (LXXX Sermons; Sermon II)

The Sun – Serving God and Humans

“… the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,

when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.

The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.

When the sun rises, they withdraw

and lie down in their dens.

People go out to their work
and to their labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

(Psalm 104:19-24)

Faith and Reason

Though opposing faith against reason seems to be a modern issue resulting from a scientific mindset opposing faith, the difference between faith and reason has been long understood in the Church, centuries before the modern scientific age.   St. Isaac the Syrian for example sees faith as greater than reason/knowledge because knowledge really deals only with the things of this world while faith deals with things beyond this world.  Knowledge is thus limited to the study of nature, but then there exists the world beyond nature – divinity, spiritual beings, heaven, the soul.  The natural world has its edges and limits, and thus knowledge is bound and limited.  The life beyond nature is an existence which might be boundless, and thus is greater than nature itself.

“For knowledge is opposed to faith; but faith, in all that pertains to it, demolishes laws of knowledge—we do not, however, speak here of spiritual knowledge. For this is the  definition of knowledge: that without investigation and examination it has no authority to do anything, but must investigate whether that which it considers and desires is possible… but faith requires a mode of thinking that is single, limpidly pure, and simple, far removed from any deviousness. See how faith and knowledge are opposed to one another! The home of faith is a childlike thought and a simple heart… But knowledge conspires against and opposes both these qualities. Knowledge in all its paths keeps within the boundaries of nature. But faith makes its journey above nature.”  (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, page 257)

A Misty Fog

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“It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. . . . and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.  (Jeremiah 51:15-16)

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The Prophet Jeremiah tells us that it is the same God who created the universe who makes fog appear on earth.   Yesterday morning was one of the foggiest days I’ve seen for a long time – perhaps a sign that God the Creator is still at work on earth.  A combination of a warm winter day with lots of moisture in the ground produced the dense misty fog.  It made it a difficult drive – for one could only see about half a block ahead.

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It did remind me of the second creation account in the book of Genesis where a mist came up from the earth just before God created the first human.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground— then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  (Genesis 2:4-7)

In the Wisdom of Sirach, there is an interesting interpretation of the above Genesis passage, for the mist turns out to be Wisdom who says:

“I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and covered the earth like a mist.
(Sirach 24:3)

You can see all the photos I took in the morning fog at Foggy Morning 2-20-2017.  The weather pattern may repeat itself again later this week so we may have more heavy, dense fog.  It would be great if it were the Wisdom of God.

Autumn Leaves

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Maybe it is the season. Changing colors, reflect fading beauty.

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A touch of melancholy.  The color change, so welcomed by my eyes, also tells me of what will follow – the cold of winter winds, and dormant plants awaiting spring’s resurrection.

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Health issues continue for me in the autumn of my life.  I cannot get out to enjoy the spreading color change of fall.

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So I look out my window at home and see in my backyard the glory of autumn and also recognize what it signals about the year.

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Sadly, my ash tree, the last still standing on my property is succumbing to the ash borer.

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 It shaded my house so faithfully for so many summers.    Now it falls to sleep, perhaps for the last time.

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The leaves I photo may be the last this tree will produce.  And it is possible the ash tree  with its distinctive leaf colors will disappear from North America as even the spring won’t bring them back from their final dormition.

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Cancerous Concerns

Ever since receiving the diagnosis that I have lung cancer, many things in my life have seemed out of focus.  Some of it results from not being able to comprehend what it means.  But the endless tests and needle pokes do sometimes bring me into  full focus and being alert.  At times, I feel myself going to appointments and listening to what is being said, but I’m detached from it all.  There’s a sense of urgency in those talking, not panic – they’ve traversed this route countless times and so can remain very professional about it.  I’m the one walking on water and like Peter I at times come to the full realization of what a perilous position I’m in.  Like the Rock, I begin sinking too.  One does not sink slowly no matter what that Gospel story may suggest.  One is quickly in over one’s head.  I am a day or two behind myself, but need that buffer zone so panic doesn’t set in.  I really do not like thinking about medical things.  The needle stick reminds me this is about me, today.  I have that place in my mind where I can go to escape what is happening – I’ve done that before.  Today I’m having a hard time finding my way there.  It is a quiet place into which I withdraw.  The introvert’s haven.  Not a place of denial, but somewhere between this world and nowhere.  It is internal, or maybe it is outside the self.

I still see the world of beauty.  I stopped the other day to walk through the Beaver Marsh at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I was between times of thinking about the cancer and the impending surgery.   It was also a place between what I have been thinking about and nowhere, though this one has a GPS location.  It is outside the self.  It is calming.  I see the inherent beauty of the natural world.   On the car radio, I just heard the excitement about stem cells – cells unlike normal cells which can divide forever.  They hold so much potential for dealing with disease that brings about the death of cells.  The announcer points out that oddly enough there is another cell which also undergoes cell division endlessly – cancer cells.   And endless division of cells doesn’t of necessity mean immortality.  Some Church Fathers thought death was a merciful way to terminate the path to endless evil.   Cancer can be stopped.

I feel related to the Yellow Water Lily.   Life is a swamp at times.  Yet life thrives here and at times and places exquisite eloquence stands out.  Death is here too.  The natural world is full of predators, hunters, and fishers.   Though humans are part of this world, certainly related to it and sharing some of its characteristics, we have an ability through consciousness and conscience to rise above a purely material existence.   Consequently, we can transfigure and transform ourselves and nature too – for good or for ill.

Above is my enigmatic self portrait.  “But you’re not in it,”  you might object.  That is why I call it enigmatic.   Wondrously, it’s an ascetical understanding of a no carbon footprint existence.  It’s the beginning of kenosis.   Eventually if I did it right, you would see Christ.  You either have to think about it or not overthink it.  It’s meant to be a paradox.

There is a pull to stay in this place.  Perhaps an ancestral yearning for paradise.   As I stand and look around, the word splendiferous comes to mind.  In the midst of the resplendent glory which God bestowed upon His creation, I cannot escape the Fall, ancestral sin, mortality.  Nor do I feel compelled to.  We are still joyfully singing, “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”  There is no where I go where He is not.  He is present in a national park, in the car between destinations, in the hospital, and in that place between here and nowhere.   I’m headed back to the hospital, another test, another stick with the needle.   I’m told I’ll be thankful when it is all over, but at the moment I’m still not ready to go there.

You can see all my photos at Cuyahoga National Park.

Images of Energy

Almost all the energy on our planet is related in one form or another from our local star, the Sun.   So it seems appropriate to occasionally capture an image of the sun and images of energy on earth.   Above the sun is framed between the two transmission towers.  The wires carry the power of the sun converted to our use.  The sun is no god, for we can make it serve our purposes.

A coal barge carries sunpower converted to carbon through the many millions of years of earth’s history.    The sun’s reflection parallels and illumes its older energy now hardened into coal.     The earth stores the sun’s power for us.

We can appreciate  apricity – the warmth of the winter sun, not only as it burns brightly in the February sky, but when the coal is burned as well.    (see also my blog Appreciating Apricity).    The sun’s energy becomes converted to material substance, in one of many mysteries and miracles of our solar system.

We do appreciate apricity especially as we feel the effect of  a Siberian plume merging with a polar vortex.   Despite the sunshine, we still experience record cold temperatures.

As we wend our way through cloudy days
Of sunless cold and winter’s greys,
Siberian plume’s fearful bite,
Apricity scatters the heart’s malaise
Birthing the hope for spring: a seasonable delight.